Fifty years is a long time, but the early childhood program Head Start is showing no signs of slowing down.
County officials, parents, children and alumni gathered at George Miller Center in Richmond on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Head Start in Contra Costa County. Dozens of families were on hand to tour school facilities and discuss the evolution of the child care program.
With a national budget of $8.1 billion and 1.1 million children now in the program, Head Start has helped more than 32 million children since its inception in 1965. The George Miller Center is the newest facility in the county.
County Supervisor John Gioia, one of the speakers during the anniversary event, called Head Start a “great program,” paying tribute to the high quality of instruction at the Miller Center.
Nearby, the old Ruth Powers Child Development Center stood vacant. That facility was built in the 1940s for women to drop off their children on the way to work at the Richmond shipyards. It operated from World War II until the Miller Center opened eight years ago.
Now, county officials are planning to restore the old center.
“It shows you the connection in this community and the importance of child care to really sustain a healthy family,” Gioia said.
Camilla Rand, director of community services for Head Start, said it’s crucial to honor the legacy of the program.
“We just wanted to bring our community together to celebrate what we do every single day,” she said.
Nationally, Head Start has had to cope with budget cuts. Contra Costa County has far more demand than the available slots can handle. The county’s 15 child care centers serve 2,200 children, but 6,000 more are on the waiting list.
Annual expenditures for the Contra Costa County Employment and Community Department is approximately $48 million for 2014. Of that amount, approximately $20 million is spent for Head Start.
A link to the Contra Costa County Head Start Annual Report for 2014 can be found here.
“We need to be able to do much more because there is a such a need in our community,” Rand said.
Rand added that investment in early care and education pays off.
“For every dollar, there is about seven dollars return on investment in the future,” she said.
Lauren Lara, a parent who has a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old in the program, said Head Start has given her children an educational advantage, and that she’s seen a big change in the temperament of her son.
“He’s actually more calm. He listens to me,” she said.
Janelle Lafrades has a son who graduated from the program in 2014. She sits on two executive boards for Head Start in the area. Being a role model for children starts at home, she said.
“If you stay active as a parent early, your children will see that and will follow in your footsteps,” she said.